Browsing 'women' News

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The passage of Qatar’s new landmark domestic workers law this week has been hailed by many rights groups as a step forward.

For the first time, nannies, cooks, gardeners, drivers and other house help in Qatar have contractual rights, such as set working hours, end-of-service benefits and rest breaks.

But the legislation still affords these workers less rights than other employees in Qatar who are covered by the labor law, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

Here are five examples of how:

1. Longer working days

The domestic workers law allows for a maximum 10-hour working day and unspecified rest breaks.

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The labor law however allows a maximum eight-hour workday (and 48-hour workweek), with rest required every five hours.

No paid overtime

According to the domestic workers law, household help can work overtime “if the employee agrees”, but no OT pay is required.

The labor law meanwhile stipulates that employers working late be paid at least 25 to 50 percent extra on top of their basic wage.

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According to Amnesty International, “it is not at all clear how domestic workers will be protected against pressure from employers to work longer hours.”

The group urged authorities to clarify the matter or consider amending/removing the provision.

Unclear sick leave

While the new law makes it illegal to force domestic workers to report to work when sick, it unclear whether such leave should be paid.

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Under the labor law however, employees are entitled to two weeks of sick leave at full pay, four weeks at half pay and unpaid leave after that.

Such loopholes mean household helpers are still “second-class workers with weaker protections,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

No grievance mechanism

Qatar’s domestic workers will not be able to utilize the country’s new labor dispute committee because they are not under the labor law.

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Whether they have recourse in the courts remains unclear.

This leaves them without a grievance mechanism to enforce their rights, and “has major implications for whether the new law will succeed in reducing the abuse of domestic workers,” Amnesty International said.

No inspections

While employers can be fined for flouting the domestic workers law, the legislation does not mention how the rules would be enforced.

Included in the labor law meanwhile is a clause that establishes a workplace inspection unit.

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The legislation outlines what kinds of authority inspectors have when visiting companies, and what penalties they can deliver.

“Qatar and its neighbors are moving in the right direction on domestic workers’ rights,” Begum said. “But for these highly vulnerable workers, the Gulf countries need to bolster protections and strongly enforce laws.”

Thoughts?

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New legislation that will boost legal protections for nannies, gardeners, drivers and other domestic help in Qatar has been signed into law by the Emir.

Once Law No. 15 of 2017 takes effect, those who hire household workers will be required to have a written contract with their employees.

Because domestic workers were not previously covered by the Labor Law, contracts were not mandated.

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This meant they could not file complaints against their employers with the labor ministry.

Health care, vacation and sick leave

The new law is groundbreaking in that it also guarantees 10-hour workdays with meal, worship and rest breaks. It also mandates a day off a week for domestic help.

This was a point of contention when the GCC tried to agree to a unified contract in 2015.

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According to a copy of the law published in Al Sharq, house help is also entitled to:

  • Three weeks of paid vacation a year, as well as a paid roundtrip ticket home every two years;
  • Free healthcare and adequate accommodation and clothing;
  • On-time salary payments at the end of each month, either through direct deposit or cash;
  • End-of-service benefits equivalent to three weeks’ wages of work per year; and
  • Fair treatment that involves maintaining their dignity and protecting them against physical and psychological harm.

Additionally, the domestic worker should not be docked for any recruitment costs and cannot be taken out of the country for work without their permission.

The new law also sets age limits for domestic workers, who must be between 18 and 60 years old. However, the labor minister can grant an exception for older workers.

Each party must have a copy of the contract, and it also must be filed with the government.

Violating the law could result in fines of QR5,000 to QR10,000.

In return

In return, domestic workers must respect “the laws, customs, social traditions and religious and moral values” of Qatar.

They should perform their duties as well as preserve the secrets of their employers and not harm their interests, the law states.

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Additionally, they cannot work for others (either paid or not) without violating the terms of their contract.

Failing to fulfill these requirements could result in the immediate termination of their contract without end-of-service benefits.

Step forward

Qatar has been discussing a draft law for several years without results.

But the passage of this legislation comes amid scrutiny from the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The UN body has deliberated sanctioning Qatar for violating human rights, but recently gave authorities until November to prove they are serious about reform.

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In the past, rights groups have said lack of legal protection leaves Qatar’s 84,000 female house helpers particularly vulnerable.

Some have been subjected to excessive working hours, late and unpaid wages, restrictions on movement and sexual assaults, groups have pointed out.

Many cautiously hailed the new legislation as a step forward when it was first proposed earlier this year.

But as with all of Qatar’s laws, enforcement will be paramount, they said.

Additionally, Migrant-Rights.org previously pointed out that when it comes to a worker’s day off, the law doesn’t say whether they are allowed to leave the house.

“Workers should be guaranteed the right to both freedom of mobility and autonomous use of leisure time on days off. It is also of utmost importance to permit a worker access to her own phone to reduce her isolation,” the group added.

Thoughts?

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Children of Qatari mothers and non-Qatari fathers deserve citizenship, not just permanent residency status, an international rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch made the comment on the heels of a landmark announcement by Qatar to bolster expat rights.

This week, the Cabinet passed draft legislation that would give some foreigners the right to live in Qatar indefinitely, as well as enjoy free healthcare and education.

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Expats with special talents and the spouses and offspring of Qatari women and foreign fathers were among those who would be allowed to apply for the status.

But this just serves to highlight the gender bias that exists in Qatari law, said Rothna Begum, HRW’s Middle East women’s rights researcher.

In a statement this week, she said:

“Qatar needs to end discrimination against women and their children, but the proposal to grant the children residency and not nationality merely assigns them a second-class status.

Half-baked fixes to a serious problem of discrimination and family separation will only ensure that another generation of children with Qatari mothers will suffer inequality and discrimination.”

How it works

Currently, only children born to Qatari fathers are automatically granted Qatari citizenship, as is the practice across the Gulf.

There has been a push both at home and abroad to change the law, as it creates a hardship for children whose mothers are Qatari but whose fathers are not.

For example, these children are treated as foreigners and must periodically renew their residency permits.

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Qatar ID card

They are also unable to access the same privileges as nationals, such as free healthcare and education, subsidized food products and many government jobs.

Still, earlier this week, many people in this position breathed a sigh of relief following the permanent residency announcement.

The news has been hailed internationally as a “step in the right direction” for Qatar. The country is embroiled in a months-long Gulf dispute and hopes to retain top expat talent in the coming years.

But HRW’s Begum said the law does not go far enough.

“Qatar should allow children the right to acquire nationality on an equal basis from their mothers or their fathers. They could lead the way in correcting this discriminatory situation among Gulf countries,” she said.

Loyalty without a passport

Despite the criticism, many Qataris said they are still pleased with the new permanent residency status idea.

That includes Dr. Amal Al-Malki, who is a scholar on Arab women and is married to a non-Qatari.

Amal Al-Malki/Twitter

Dr. Amal Al-Malki, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at HBKU

Speaking to Doha News, she said the decision will be a boon to people born in Qatar who don’t have documentation, including Palestinians living in the state since the ’60s.

She continued:

“This also gives Qatari women who are married to non-Qataris a peace of mind. It is important that they have long term residency and the right to own property in Qatar.

I still would like to see how this will translate into actions and be handled. Officials will be surprised (with lack of statistics) of the number of half-Qataris!”

Al-Malki, who is also Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at HBKU, added that she doesn’t think half-Qataris like her children will be nationalized anytime soon.

But she also pointed out, “The current crisis taught us a very important thing. Loyalty is not a matter of passport or documents.”

Thoughts?